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Learning to Walk, Days 14-15, September 10- 11, bus from Figeac to Rocamadour, and back again.

September 11, 2022

Oh my, oh my. Rocamadour. Who thinks, “hey, there’s mighty tall cliff, perfect place for a church, shrine, and one-street medieval village?” Rocamadour is built into one side of a gorge. It is not only a major pilgrimage site, it is a major tourist destination. I am so glad I followed the advice of some guide book I read that said try to stay overnight in Rocamadour (pronounce, Rock-uh-muh-DOOR (rhymes with “sure”). From about 10 or 11 until 5 it is very crowded with people who come for the day. But when the tour busses leave, it is wonderfully peaceful and quiet and you almost have the place to yourself.

On the walk down the winding path after arriving yesterday (busses park at the top), I ran into someone who I’d been seeing most nights. Would often end up at the same gite. He was also staying in Rocamadour for his last night before going home, but was all alone and wishing for pilgrim company. We met for dinner and it was nice to have a meal with someone whose English is far better than my French!

Rocamadour is built on three levels, with a winding switch-back path, stairs, and lifts in between. You have to pay for the lift, but when I was carrying my big pack, it was worth it! There is a castle at the top, which I believe is the most recent addition (just a few centuries old), that was built for protection of the holy site below it and the village. The middle level is the basilica and other chapels, and the lowest level is the medieval village—just one street, which is all there is room for—full of shops, restaurants and some hotels. My gite was on the middle level, down the street from the churches. It was a convent that has a few sisters in residence, but mostly runs a guest house, as so many convents and abbeys do now. I had a teeny, tiny little room with a sink to myself.

The winding path from the top down to the churches, or rather starting from the church level to the top has the stations of the cross at each turning point, so that in itself is a kind of pilgrimage. Rocamadour is most famous for its Vierge Noir, Black Virgin (with Jesus perched on her knee). She has inspired many artists, writers and Poulenc (thanks, Andrew H., for that information). The whole place is awe-inspiring, frankly.

This morning I set out at 8 to explore before catching an 11:30 bus, and before it got crowded. I was fascinated by the birds above me, swooping and calling. I kept hearing this “whoosh” noise and kind of recognizing it, but wondering what it was. I was so focused on the birds, that it wasn’t until it was quite close that I realized the “whooshing” noise was a hot air balloon! It was flying over the gorge, then rose up over the cliff, looking from my perspective like it wasn’t going to clear it. Of course, it did. Just one more breathtaking experience!

After watching the balloon go up and over the cliff and out of sight I continued on toward the churches and heard chanting. I walked into the Chapel of the Vierge Noir to find that the service of Lauds had just started. I think I was the only visitor there. There was a priest reading the service, a brother, a sister and two or three younger people who are clearly interns or something similar. They were helping to lead the service and afterwards were doing things like getting candles out and readying the chapel for the tourists to descend. The brother helped me out, handing me his book and showing me where we were when I lost my place. I was able to read the French and join in the responses, which were all sung. I didn’t understand all of it, but because it’s liturgy and Psalms and other scripture, I was familiar enough with it to get the basic meaning. I felt like I had gone to church on a Sunday anyway, and thought of the folks back home at MAPC, who, I hope were still sound asleep but would be worshipping, too, in several hours.

I took the bus back from Figeac just before noon. It’s just over an hour’s ride. I was the only passenger. And it only costs 2 E each way. How can they afford to do this? It is clearly heavily subsidized. When I took the bus yesterday from Figeac to Rocamadour, there were only four of us going to Roc and one women who got off at an earlier stop. I’m grateful for the bus—the train station at Roc is 4 k away. And while that is not a long distance, I had my pack with me, and I am not doing well with carrying that, so was very glad to get the bus and not have to walk 4k.

For lunch today I ate at a restaurant that was clearly full of locals—most people seemed to know the host (owner?). He recommended the plate of local specialties, and I took him up on it. Duck, foie gras and a yummy, runny cheese, and salad and the best fried potatoes I’ve ever had—I don’t want to call them French fries—they were so much more than what we think of as fries! I have always stayed away from foie gras since I am not usually a fan of organ meats. But this was good. I don’t know if it would be my first choice in ordering, but it surprised me, pleasantly.

The winding path down to the sanctuary level. You can see one of the stations of the cross in the lower right.

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  1. Susan H Anderson permalink

    Thank you, Beverly, for your wonderful photographs, descriptions and historical notes of churches and villages. I am so enjoying joining you on your pilgrimage, and in awe of the walks, hiking, and many stairs you have climbed. Thank you also for taking pictures of the delicious looking meals.

  2. ooooh these photos !..and the light in that whole place !..these pictures are such a quiet thrill ! I would never have seen such a steady stream of these wonders… I so appreciate it.

  3. What fantastic pictures, made me feel dizzy again! Lovely post.

  4. Really enjoying having time on holiday to catch up with your blog. Wonderful descriptions and photographs and the food looks mouth-watering. Looks a real physical challenge but very rewarding as well as exhausting I imagine. I’m on holiday at our special sanctuary in The Trossachs and savouring your posts and pictures. Will catchup some more tomorrow. Go well x

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